Why does a criminal sentence of "life" in England not mean life imprisonment?

In the USA a life sentence truly means a life sentence. In the UK I read all the time of Criminals killing someone, getting sentenced for life then serving a mere 5 -10 years.

I also read that the prison or justice system discourages prisoners from spending more than 10 years in jail otherwise it can make them unfit for release into the public?

Why is the British justice system so weak on crime at a time when the UK has the serious growing crime rate.

3 Answers

  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago
    Favorite Answer

    Thanks for your question. I agree with the piont you make but need to clear up a few things first.

    1/ Crime is going down. It has done for the past 5 years. According to polls most UK citizens believe the opposite to be true. However we have a very ethical crime recording system but can only measure reported crime. If you can show me some evidence to show crime is on the rise in the UK I would be interested to see it.

    2/ Life sentences are mandatory for offences like Murder. However judges can give guidance on what the minum term should be (ie 10 years). It's true that some murderers have been released after as little as 7 years in prison. This "minimum" sentence is when the prisoner is first eligible for early release. If they don't play by the rules then they can stay inside for up to life. I knew a guy who comitted his second "malicious wounding" offence (which carries a mandatory life sentence for a 2nd offence accroding to court guidlines) and the judge gave him this sentence but stated he should serve at least 18 months. Sure enough he was out after 18 months.

    3/ No matter when a prisoner is released if they were given life then they remain on "licence" from prison for the rest of their life. That means if they re-offend or break their licence they can be taken back to prison to serve the rest of the life sentence. This is a useful tactic but there is no gurantee the prisoner will stick to their licence.

    4/ The US has a much tougher penal system. They have more prisoners per population that any other country in the world and they get tough sentences. Combine this with the death penatly in some states and you would have thought that they do better with their crime rates. Wrong. The US has a much higher crime rate (crimes per 1000 population) that the UK. I don't know why this is. Perhaps it would be even worse if they didn't have tough sentences.

    Now, to answer your question - the UK does not have the capacity to house all of our prisoners. As a consequence criminals are avoiding approaprite punishment for their acts and are being released early - often to re-offend. until we build more prisons this will continue to be the case.

    Some groups feel prison is not the answer. I disagree. If a burglar is in prison he is not comitting the 2 burglaries per night which are necessary to fund his heroin addiction. Every day in prison helps reduce crime

    Longer sentences please....

    • Commenter avatarLogin to reply the answers
  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago

    Is this the most loaded, uninformed question on this site? Check the statutory requirements for a "life" sentence state by state. Some require 10 and out, some 15, and others no more than 20 for the same reasons the Brits do. Consider also that there are over 2.5 million people currently incarcerated in the US today and that 98% of those will be released at some time.

    Suggestion: volunteer with a jail or prison outreach program and get to know a few incarcerated people. You will find out that they are not all that different than you, with the exception that they made a mistake AND got caught.

    And, in case you haven't noticed, the crime rate is growning here. The US Department of Justice itself has published findings that show there is no correlation between the length of incarceration and deterence to crime. There is a direct correlation between longer sentences and recidivism (repeat offenses).

    Opinions are fine, but do your homework.

    • Commenter avatarLogin to reply the answers
  • Anonymous
    4 years ago

    Life without parole means spending the rest of your life in an American prison. Period. A life sentence means that a person will eventually get out if a model prisoner but they spend a mighty long time in prison. I'm sure someone knows how long the term of punishment is when given a life sentence and, hopefully, they'll be able to answer that part of your question.

    • Commenter avatarLogin to reply the answers
Still have questions? Get your answers by asking now.